I have provided London City Council with the following Strategic Plan recommendations:
Dear City Council, London, Ontario,
Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback on London’s next Strategic Plan. As we face a period of unprecedented homelessness in our community I wanted to provide a few thoughts for consideration particularly on the issues of housing and homelessness. I will be elaborating further on these throughout the strategic planning process and hope to have the opportunity to present the details more directly. However, at this time I thought it might be helpful to set the stage for the possibilities in the plan.
I want to preface this by recognizing we are facing a particularly challenging moment when it comes to housing affordability and homelessness. The unprecedented escalation in rents in London has created a new level of economic homelessness I have not seen since starting in the sector in 2004. Simultaneously, while we have seen increased direct funding from the Federal Government (ex. rapid housing initiative), we have seen unprecedented constraints in flowing provincial funding for affordable housing. With increased core housing need and very limited new affordable options, the homelessness we see today is a policy inevitability.
On that distressing note, I do want us to consider that there is still much we can do as a municipality. No, without a significant provincial increase in social assistance rates and large federal-provincial co-investments in new social housing we won’t likely see much slowdown in new experiences of homelessness, but yes we can still ensure as a community that those who do enter homelessness have the best opportunity to maintain health and wellbeing while also exiting into the housing options they require.
With that, I look to two items from the previous Strategic Plan that are still (and more) relevant today:
1) Increase affordable and quality housing options: This item is crucial as with limited rent control options in place we have seen a 30% increase in rents this past year with a doubling in less than 6 years. The is fundamentally bad for the economics and socio-demographics for our community. To better reflect the urgency of housing affordability in London I would recommend an update to this item as:
Maximize affordable and quality housing options.
The ship hasn’t just sailed on housing affordability, it left the port in 2016 and is way out to sea. To carry the metaphor, it now requires an all-hands-on-deck approach to drive affordability on all points. That means continuing with approaches from the existing plan (such as using redevelopment to increase the number of RGI units provided by LMCH; tapping into all available NHS federal funding), but also some potentially new areas of focus.
I would invite you to consider some of the following strategies and will provide further details on these at a later time and as requested:
- a) Reduce as much as possible fees and regulatory barriers to those committed to building new affordable housing.
- b) Make use of existing tools such as inclusionary zoning as much as possible within allowed areas.
- c) Consider new tools that will maximize use of current land for housing (ex. allow affordable housing development on public lands such as municipal parking lots; create as-of-right renovation to 4 units and new builds to 4 units city wide; increase height allowances for high density city wide; reduce parking requirements; reduce allowance for R1 zoning city-wide on greenfield development and consider an R5/R6 minimum)
2) Reduce the number of families and individuals experiencing chronic homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless: Unfortunately, over the period of this current Strategic Plan we have lost ground on this item. This is seen and felt collectively as a community; we know we are failing on homelessness and this is a human rights (the right to adequate shelter) issue. We need to do better and set our targets higher. A focus on chronic homelessness is insufficient, episodic homelessness matters as well. A reduction is an insufficient goal. I recommend a revision to this item to be two items as:
All people experiencing homelessness have a safe place to be.
I believe this revision extends the focus beyond chronic homelessness, while also being realistic and knowing that within the context of the current provincial government we are unlikely to reach a goal such as ending homelessness in London. Rather, it recognizes that while we don’t have the funds to build 1,500 new units of RGI social housing ($375M+), creating sufficient places for people to be at day and night, winter and summer, is within our reach. I am intentionally not naming this as emergency shelter spaces because I know our community has worked hard this past year to think of innovative ways to both provide crisis space while remaining focused on rapid rehousing, and can continue to do so. However, we need to be doing better than tents in parks (by offering better options, not by destroying encampments).
and, Those at risk of homelessness are supported to remain housed
Homelessness prevention can be as simple as increasing resources available through the Rent Bank, to much more complex support services such as social support or legal assistance. Research is rapidly expanding on homelessness prevention and we need to work to actualize interventions being developed by organizations such as the Canadian Centre for Housing Rights. As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As I interpret this, the easiest housing to find for those at risk of homelessness is the housing they are already in. Emergency shelter diversion is a part of this, but it’s also much more than that. It may also require increasing resources on hand for the Housing team now that coordinated access is running.
Thank you for taking the time to consider these options and I look forward to discussing them further as the year goes on.
Abe Oudshoorn, RN, PhD
Associate Professor, Western University
Managing Editor, International Journal on Homelessness
Recipient, 2022 CMHC Gold Roof Award for Housing Research Excellence
The first draft of the new Strat Plan priorities are available and the wording provided on these items is: